Phil, a man who tootled on the clarinet for fun, collected songwriters as friends. He'd been close to Saul Chapman and Sammy Cahn since the early 1930s when they'd work summers together in the Catskills. He also knew the likes of Jule Styne, Johnny Mercer, Johnny Burke, Jerome Kern and Jimmy Van Heusen.
It was an idle comment at the home of Burke, the lyricist behind the classic Misty track, that led to Phil's sole songwriting credit. When Phil described Burke's wife as "Bessie with the laughing face" Van Heusen, Burke's frequent writing partner, commented,.
"Good title for a song." Burke replied "It's my day off -- you two guys do it" leaving Phil the task of co-writing the song with Van Heuse. Some days later, at Frank Sinatra's daughter Nancy's birthday party, Phil presented the finished song with "Nancy" substituted for "Bessie". Sinatra liked the song so much he put it in his concert repertoire. The song became a popular hit.
Nancy with the laughing face
Phil hit his stride in movies, playing the part of the rubber-seeking ice cream salesman in Tom, Dick and Harry, at RKO and he really came into his own with a solid run at Charlie Foy's Supper Club. In the audience one night was non other than, Darryl Zanuck (legendary American Film Producer) Phil Silvers saw this as an opportunity to really impress the movie mogul.....Zanuck's view of Phil's act became accidentally blocked...... which prompted Phil to say, "Excuse me, Zanuck can't see me!!" The next day this (off-the-cuff) remark appeared in all the newspapers and Zanuck thought Phil was so terrific that he signed him to a long term contract at Twentieth Century Fox.
1942 as Wiley, in Theodore Dreiser's 'My Gal Sal'
1941 saw Phil had a bit part as a waiter alongside legendary "hard man" Humphrey Bogart.....this was in the thriller movie All Through the Night....the presence of Phil in the film was due to the direct intervention of Warner Bros. studio head Jack Warner, who personally phoned director Vincent Sherman to insure that he and another upcoming star, one Jackie Gleason, be added to the cast.
Next up was a comedic role alongside Jimmy Durante in You're in the Army Now. Here the intrepid duo played obnoxious vacuum cleaner salesmen (Jeeter Smith and Breezy Jones), who accidently get drafted into the US Army.
Jimmy and Phil could have been right in with the Marx Brothers with their unbearably terrible but still funny antics as vacuum cleaner salesmen and later buck privates. But the mayhem really got going when they started tugging, with the help of a tank, the Colonel's house in the middle of the night! Eventually ending up left perched off a clifftop overlooking a demolition site.
He was a standout in such pictures as My Gal Sal and Coney Island. In a lot of these early 1940s movies, from Footlight Serenade to My Gal Sal to Coney Island for reasons best known to Hollywood moguls, he was never cast in any part except that of an idiot boy mixed up with tough gangsters, a sort of court clown for criminals. "I was always called Blinky and I was forever going out to the car to get something for The Boss and never being seen again. I think my biggest line in three years went like this: 'You have said it, killer. Yes, you have. You deedy-deedy-did.' Very funny bit there. They fired me soon after." Phil said later.
From 19 June 1941 onwards, Phil appeared on radio many times, making his airwave debut on the Rudy Vallee and the Sealtest broadcast. This was in the show called Camp Aggrevation in the Pine - also appearing was Marjorie Rambeau.
Camp Aggrevation in the Pine
1942: Teaching Bing Crosby to sing during a USO tour
1943: Entertaining the four Crosby sons at Bing's Rancho Sante Fe
1944: Cast as the character named Genius in the Charles Vidor directed comedy musical Cover Girl. The film was billed as "A Mirthful, Magical Musical". Also starring in the movie was the legends that was, Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth.
In Cover Girl, made on the Columbia lot, Phil called on all the tricks that a song and dance vaudeville comic had to know, added a few more, and along with the incomparable, Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth romped off with top musical honours of 1944.
The movie was just the kind of escapist film America wanted in the midst of the troubles of World War II. It made people forget their troubles for the afternoon. It's full of lighthearted songs, plenty of dancing, and in Technicolor! It's one of the musicals that made Rita one of the most popular pin-up girls of World War II.
Rita Hayworth......Rusty Parker/Maribelle Hicks; Gene Kelly as Danny McGuire; Lee Bowman as Noel Wheaton; Phil as Genius
Directed by Charles Vidor
Produced by Arthur Schwartz
Screenplay by Virginia Van Upp, Marion Parsonnet, and Paul Gangelin, from story by Erwin Gelsey
'The Show Must Go On' 'Who's Complaining?' 'Sure Thing' 'Make Way for Tomorrow' 'Put Me to the Test' 'Long Ago and Far Away' 'Cover Girl' (all by Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin) 'Poor John' (by Fred Leigh and Henry E. Pether)
Singing voice for Miss Hayworth: Martha Mears; Costumes by Travis Banton, Gwen Wakeling and Muriel King; Dances Staged by Val Raset and Seymour Felix; Women's Hats by Kenneth Hopkins
The score for Cover Girl created by Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin, which featured the Oscar nominated "Long Ago and Far Away", was a major factor in the film's success. The picture also received four other nominations, including as "Best Color Cinematography" and "Best Interior Color Decoration".
Cover Girl is perhaps Rita Hayworth's most famous musical.
In his very next movie Phil starred as Harry Hart in Something For The Boys, headlining in this film was the Brazilian Bombshell herself, Carmen Miranda. Phil then had roles as Blinky Miller in Diamond Horsehoe followed by being cast as 'Mac' MacDenny in Don Juan Quilligan.
Another cinematic triumph followed when he played the part of Abdullah in A Thousand and One Nights. This was an occasionally strident but generally successful satire of the popular Universal Jon Hall/Maria Montez epics. Cornel Wilde stars as a twentyish Aladdin, whose magic lamp yields two genies: Collosus-like Giant, played by Rex Ingram (who repeated the role he played in 1940's Thief of Baghdad) and a ravishing redhead genie played by Evelyn Keyes. Aladdin uses his new-found wealth and magical powers to woo Princess Armina, but not without the opposition of villainous Sultan Kamar Al-Kir. Phil had a line that caused a major row behind the scenes. During the gin rummy sequence his character says, "Don't play that card, you'll louse up your hand." The word "Louse" was prohibited by the production code of the time. Harry Cohn refused to bow to his superiors removal demands and the offending word was kept.
'A Thousand and One Nights'
'A Thousand and One Nights'
Cast (credited cast)
Evelyn Keyes..........The Genie
Adele Jergens..........Princess Armina
Dennis Hoey..........Sultan Kamar Al-Kir
Philip Van Zandt..........Grand Wazir AbuHassan
Rex Ingram ... Giant
Directed by Alfred E. Green
Produced by Samuel Bischoff
Iverson Ranch, Chatsworth, Los Angeles,
Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park, California
Running time: 93 min
Aspect Ratio:1.37 : 1